CORDIS - EU research results

Understanding, predicting, and treating depression in pregnancy to improve mothers and offspring mental health outcomes

Project description

Unveiling biological causes of maternal depression

A mother’s mental health and wellbeing may affect their child’s development. Stress, depression and anxiety during and after pregnancy is associated with disturbances in childhood development. In this context, the EU-funded HappyMums project will explore the physiological mechanisms of that phenomenon to enable effective science-based, clinical interventions to support endangered mothers and improve foetal environment and development. Laboratory research models will be juxtaposed with unique human samples of the placenta, chorionic villi, and amniotic fluid to unveil the root biological causes of maternal depression. A digital platform will offer rich medical data and a mobile phone app to support mothers and their children.


HappyMums is designed to improve our understanding on the biological mechanisms underlying the development of depressive symptoms in pregnancy, and the efficacy of interventions. It will interrogate a large collection of cohorts with multiple biological, medical, clinical, socio-demographic and environmental and lifestyle data to identify the most robust risk factors triggering depressive symptoms, but also moderators of the risk.
By putting together unique human samples of placenta, chorionic villi and amniotic fluid, and animal models, HappyMums will improve the understanding of the neurobiological mechanisms affected by depressive symptoms in pregnancy that lead to alterations in the foetal environment, shaping offspring risk for developing negative mental outcomes. The use of three complimentary rodent models will allow to achieve a proof of causality, and the presence of an innovative fish model will elucidate the mechanisms specific to placenta by which adverse maternal conditions are transmitted to the offspring without the potentially confounding mitigating effects of compensatory postnatal maternal care. This knowledge will allow the identification of new targets for the development of novel medications, for the repurposing of existing medications or for the development of non-pharmacological interventions. HappyMums will also develop a digital platform where AI tools-based data can be collected, together with biological, clinical, medical, environmental and lifestyle data, through a mobile phone App that will be at the interface with clinicians via a dedicated dashboard. This will allow early screening of depressive symptoms, prompt diagnoses, personalized treatments, and the promotion of protective lifestyle attitudes. Overall, HappyMums will not only increase the knowledge in the field of mental disorders in pregnancy, but also improve the wellbeing of these women, providing unprecedented benefits also to the offspring and thus to society at large.


Net EU contribution
€ 1 620 416,00
Via Festa Del Perdono 7
20122 Milano

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Nord-Ovest Lombardia Milano
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 620 416,25

Participants (13)

Partners (3)